Home Video Round-Up 4/24/2022

Scream (3/14/2022)

The people behind the Scream franchise have really found quite the racket for themselves: they can make the same damn movie five times and call their similarities “commentary” instead of laziness.  Of course they’re not alone among slasher films in being repetitious but at least in other franchises they try to inject novelty here or there or perhaps go back and forth with their casting and these franchise evolutions are interesting even if they’re not great.  By contrast the Scream franchise has traded in those ups and downs in favor of a somewhat consistent if repetitive quality in which the original film’s cast keeps coming back to once again fight copycat killers trying to recreate the events of the first film albeit with fresh commentary about whatever new kinds of horror movies are out there (even if they ultimately just keep being slasher movies where people get stabbed with hunting knives).  This one in particular is kind of lazy when it comes to the fundamentals of being a slasher movie, by which I mean the kills aren’t very inventive, these movies have really been milking the “tense chase where the killer is knocked back a few times, but then catches up and after a struggle murders the victim with a knife” formula for a while now.  There’s a sort of clever explanation this time around for why these killers keep doing the same thing over and over which might satisfy some people but which feels a bit like an excuse to me.  Had Scream 2, Scream 3, or Scream 4 done more to switch things up previously this kind of back to basics approach might have resonated a bit more metatexutally and textually but they all played it pretty safe themselves and this really seems like one too many repeats of the same to me.
**1/2 out of Five

The Adam Project (3/21/2022)

I think the worst kind of mediocrity is intentional mediocracy, which is something I find to be genuinely less appealing than sincere badness, and the new Netflix film The Adam Project is intentional mediocracy at its worst.  To the film’s credit I do suspect that at some point when the project was just a spec script written by T.S. Nowlin (before three other credited writers ended up working on this thing) that someone actually had the hopes of this being a real movie, unfortunately this was clearly put through the wringer and handed off to director Shawn Levy, an absolute hack who went from making dreck like the Cheaper by the Dozen remake and the Night at the Museum movies to becoming Ryan Reynolds’ BFF and making expensive dreck like Free Guy and he is now apparently tapped to direct the next Deadpool.  Speaking of Ryan Reynolds… I think I’ve come to hate this guy?  I don’t think I’ve particularly liked him in much of anything ever and the particular pandering persona he’s adopted since his Deadpool comeback just grates on me.  Dude has a punchable face.  This particular movie is yet another movie trying to ripoff the tone and aesthetics of Amblin movies from the 80s but this isn’t even trying to ripoff the good movies from that movement and instead resembles second rate entrants like Flight of the Navigator.  It involves a time travel plotline that doesn’t do anything interesting with its concepts and also relies on an implausible amount of technological innovation happening in the next thirty years.  The film isn’t exactly as incompetent as the tone of this review probably makes it sound, but it’s definitely second rate, the product of far too much money being thrown at something devoid of inspiration and driven more by Netflix algorithms than by any actual human crafting and creativity.  It’s a movie whose existence and relative success depresses me.
** out of Five

The House (4/10/2022)

The House is an animated anthology film that debuted on Netflix early this year and tells three stories using stop-motion animation all linked by the fact that they’re set in the same house… sort of.  There isn’t a continuity between the three stories and the history of the house, in fact the three stories are clearly set in different universes what with one of them involving talking mice, one involving talking cats, and one involving humans, and the décor of the house in all three is completely different to the point where I would not have made the connection that it was the same place in all three were it not for the title and ostensible high concept.  I would also say the animation quality varied quite a bit between the three: I didn’t think the felty style really worked much for the human story but that the animators did do some good work with the fur on the one with the cats and the rodent one sat somewhere in the middle for me.  From a story perspective though I probably preferred the one with the mice, which was a funny little short about a Kafkaesque real estate transaction.  Overall though I didn’t really find that much of a through line through these segments and in some ways wonder if they would have been better served as separate shorts than as ostensible parts that don’t really fit together as a whole.  Overall I can’t say I was wildly impressed by the project as a whole, but there are some cute bits to be found in it.
**1/2 out of Five

Munich – The Edge of War (4/23/2022)

If there’s one alleged lesson in history that the world may have over-learned it’s Neville Chamberlain’s negotiations with Hitler to hand over the Sudetenland in exchange for a promise not to engage in future aggressions, which was obviously a promise that Hitler did not stick to.  The perceived lesson is that “appeasement” never works and that you need to fight aggression with aggression.  It’s a historical parallel that I heard war hawks cite endlessly when trying to cheerlead America into the disastrous Iraq invasion, suggesting to me that this “lesson” is always dubious.  The notion that the allies would have benefited from starting the war earlier is dubious in the first place and viewing this as the ur-precedent in global relations ignores all the times that negotiation and diplomacy actually have worked.  Anyway, that key bit of history is at the center of the historical thriller Munich-The Edge of War, which is set during the Munich conference where those fateful decisions were made but primarily from the perspective of a young advisor to Chamberlain and an old German friend of his who now works in Hitler’s government but is part of a “deep state” of sorts hoping to bring him down.

It’s a decent set-up and Jeremy Irons is pretty good as Chamberlain, but I’m not sure the younger characters quite connect as well as the filmmakers intended.  I don’t know, I like them individually but I’m not sure I ever quite bought this old friendship of theirs, I suspect a handful of additional flashbacks to their student days were cut from the film.  Beyond that I’d say the filmmaking here is mostly just okay; it mostly manages to stay grounded, which is nice, but the handful of times it tries to dip into Hitchcockian suspense never really take off.  I suspect that the film was made in order to strike parallels between the rise of Hitler and the recent rise of Trump and other right-wing nationalists around the world today, which is interesting, but watching it now I actually saw more unintended parallels to the recent invasion of Ukraine.  Through the film Chamberlain discusses a deep psychological need on the part of his citizens to see their leaders doing everything possible to maintain the peace, and I think he was right about that.  There was, in retrospect, a major benefit to making of clear to the world that Germany was solely the aggressor in the war in much the same way it was a very canny move to never give Putin any sort of legitimate casus belli for his invasion.  But again, that’s me making connections that certainly weren’t intended when this was being filmed.  As a movie unto itself this is only okay.  It debuted on Netflix, which is probably for the best as this only sort of feels like a theatrical film and kind of reminded me of the made-for-TV movies that HBO would produce in the 2000s and which only ever seemed to be watched by Emmy voters.
*** out of Five

The Fallout (4/24/2022)

Before seeing it the new HBO Max exclusive film The Fallout mostly seemed notable for being the first instance I can recall of a movie’s trailer having a trigger warning, which was weird because said trailer was not very nasty, it mostly seemed to just be there because of the film’s basic theme of being about teenagers being traumatized by a shooting that happened at their school.  So, this would be the latest entrant in the “zoomer high schoolers being depressed about stuff” genre that usually tends to be more of a TV thing.  This sort of being an HBO production one can’t help but be reminded of “Euphoria,” in fact I think it’s fair to say that this is what “Euphoria” would be like if it wasn’t being made by a deranged edgelord, which is to say it’s less ridiculous but also a bit less entertaining.  Also the teenagers have an actual reason to be depressed messes, and that helps.  Jenna Ortega stars as the central teenager and is quite good in the film; she’s having something of a breakout year and I think we’re going to be seeing quite a bit of her in the future.  Megan Park’s direction is evenhanded and mostly sensitive but maybe lacking in reach and ambition.  I think the film was made with its inevitable streaming destiny in mind as this definitely doesn’t feel like a theatrical film but also doesn’t necessarily have the hallmarks of being a “TV movie” either.  Maybe it started as a TV pilot but wasn’t picked up when “Eurphoria” came into the picture and this was made as a conciliation prize.  Eh, maybe that’s overthinking it.  Clearly HBO is just interested in becoming the streaming service of choice for depressed zoomers and this is part of the initiative and as these things go it’s alright.
*** out of Five

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